If you’re a college student, a computer is not a luxury but a necessity. While a desktop computer can do the job, I highly recommend that any student would be better off with a laptop. The reasons are relatively self-evident. You can take better notes in class, you can work anywhere on and off campus, it’s easier to work in groups, and with wireless hotspots permeating campus, you can access the Internet at your leisure. With that said, we evaluated three of the top laptop manufacturer’s 12″ lightweight models. These lightweight models are small and lean, yet still powerful enough to meet most student needs. It’s also important to note that while these slim light creatures are easy on your shoulders (backpack), they can convert to essentially a full desktop system back at your dorm or apartment just by plugging in an external monitor and keyboard. In evaluating these laptops, which all had 12″ screens, we looked for certain core features we believe every student laptop needs which are: 802.11g and b wireless access, a CD-RW/DVD-R player and burner, in addition to an Ethernet, modem, and external video port. We gave extra “points” to the added features of FireWire, BlueTooth, and internal SD readers. Firewire® is an extremely fast way to transfer data between devices. This standard which is also called by its numeric name of 1394, is often used for connecting video cameras to computers, as well as external hard drives and scanners. While USB, which comes on all laptops is sufficient for connecting to most external devices, the Firewire will definitely be a plus if you’re planning to buy a video camera that is equipped with Firewire. BlueTooth is the emerging standard for wirelessly connecting devices such as cell phones, PDA’s, wireless keyboards, mice, and for wirelessly transferring files between computers. Think of BlueTooth as your short range (30 ft.) wireless connectivity as opposed to 802.11 b or g that wirelessly connects your laptop to networks and the Internet. SD is an acronym that besides being short for Scooby Doo and Schweizer Demokraten (Swiss Democrats), means Secure Digital memory card. This is one of the most prevalent types of memory cards used in digital cameras.
|Toshiba Portege M205-S809|
The Toshiba was unique in our review because its screen can turn around into a tablet mode that lets you write with a digital pen. The pen and tablet features were fun to use, which include variable pen widths, red text, and highlighting. You can also circle anything you’ve drawn and drag it around to wherever you want in the document. It’s also possible to export out your notes as a picture file, which you could email. As far as tablet pc’s go, Toshiba has built an excellent implementation with the Portege M205. The tablet pc mode is a great feature if you prefer to write more than type. I personally would not use it much since I can type much faster than I write, not to mention my handwriting. Also if you’re surfing the web, you’ll definitely want the screen in normal mode so you can type urls instead of hunting and pecking the ‚virtual’ keyboard that is available in pen mode. The Toshiba was the largest of the laptops, which was disappointing because it did not include a built in CD-ROM. At first I thought the external CD-ROM, which attaches with a USB cable, would not be an issue. However, after traveling with the notebook, I found it a pain to have to carry with, and a pain when I did not have it and wanted to load some CD’s. The justification to not have a built in CD-ROM can only be for reduced laptop weight, and yet this laptop was not lighter than the other models that had it built in. The screen is excellent and has only a thin protective layer over it for tablet writing, but the rest of the base had black plastic casing that feels a bit cheap. Overall, the decision on the Portege comes down to preference – Is the ability to write with a pen tablet more important than having a built in CD-ROM?
|Dell Inspiron 700|
The Dell Inspiron boasts a sleek and beautiful glossy screen with all of our core and recommended features with the exception of Bluetooth. The casing has smooth ‚alpine white accent’ edges with silver in the middle and with the exception of the clunky large battery stuck to the back is fairly stylish. While we did not do any formal benchmarking, the system seemed very fast. It’s combination of fast Pentium M 1.8 Ghz processor, 2 MB cache, and 400 Mhz Front Side bus and fast 802.11g wireless chipset let it blazes through web pages. With that performance and the full feature set we were looking for, it was disappointing to find a blatant Achilles’ heel. That flaw is it’s tiny keyboard. It was actually annoying to use and we believe would be for anyone with medium to large hands. The sad thing is that there is space on the right and left hand side of the keyboard where it could have been engineered for normal human hands. Therefore if you are slight of wrist and want a full-featured light laptop, this could be for you. For anyone else who doesn’t have Tinker Bell hands, you will want to pass. This is not to say that another Dell laptop might meet your needs, just with respect to this model, you’ll want to test one live before buying.
The 12″ Powerbook, like the larger versions of Apple’s Powerbook, is a product of engineering brilliance. The unit was the smallest of the three laptops, and yet packed the most features and style into its sleek aluminum alloy shell. This laptop has everything a student needs: compact design, brilliant screen, excellent connectivity, snappy performance, and the ability to record and produce your own college experience on DVD. It’s also worth noting that even though it was the smallest unit it also had the best keyboard. That is because Apple used all of the space available in the width of the computer bringing the keyboard to the left and right edges.